It’s always nice when Rodgers & Hammerstein are referenced in the media. In the Memorial Day Sunday New York Times Book Review section a parallel was drawn between a new book’s wandering through the story of the author dealing with her aged mother and the author’s advice on how to deal with aging parents and characters in musicals moving from speaking into singing. The reference the reviewer used was OKLAHOMA!, first with “Oh, What A Beautiful Mornin’,” and then, realizing the subject matter of the book, corrects herself to indicate that “Pore Jud Is Daid” is the more appropriate song.
And so it is in this Broadway season that there are many R&H references. They are mostly from THE SOUND OF MUSIC. Since much of SISTER ACT takes place is a convent, a nod in the direction of THE SOUND OF MUSIC seemed inevitable. And thanks to Douglas Carter Beane’s sassy rewrite of the libretto, it’s there, a reference to how cool nuns are, as exemplified by their stealing “the Nazi’s car parts so the singing children can get away. That’s good stuff!” It gets a good chuckle. Sticking with the nuns, the three sisters of THE HOUSE OF BLUE LEAVES also make a reference to THE SOUND OF MUSIC, but this one, of course, has been in that show since it was first produced at the Truck and Warehouse Theater on West 4th Street in 1971. I know; I saw it there – escorting Yvonne de Carlo, but that is kind of another story. For those of you who have no idea what the Truck and Warehouse Theater is, you know it better as the New York Theater Workshop…thankfully, one Off-Broadway theater that is still going strong. (And there is a quote from Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” in the show as well…)
The drag queens of PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT live in a world of borrowed music, as they did in the movie. But the three who inhabit the Palace Theater make several references to “favorite things” and “climbing every mountain.” I guess it’s just a part of their vernacular, since these folk are pretty far from any convent. And then there is THE BOOK OF MORMON, which embraces the wonderfully old fashioned – and well constructed – world of musical theater from the Rodgers & Hammerstein era. And the inspirational song “I Believe” pays special homage to the verse of “I Have Confidence,” one of best known songs from THE SOUND OF MUSIC’s movie version. The homage is clever, so clever that audiences take a while to get the joke. But with the line: “A warlord who shoots people in the face. What’s so scary about that?” it becomes clear. And it gets a good hearty laugh.
The last homage is in some ways the most astonishing, and it isn’t from THE SOUND OF MUSIC. It is, however, in THE BOOK OF MORMON. I don’t really want to spoil it for those of you who haven’t seen the show, but more than a reference is made to “The Small House Of Uncle Thomas” from THE KING AND I. In THE KING AND I, the slave Tuptim ‘puts on a show’ for the King of Siam, and chooses “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” as the basis for her show, largely for what it has to say about slavery. It provides a way for the oppressed slave to tell her King what she thinks of slavery, without really saying it, because, of course, she cannot confront the King. It’s used for good dramatic purpose. Think about that when you see THE BOOK OF MORMON…